John Calipari thinks Kentucky fans would 'be respectful' to ex-Wildcats coach Rick Pitino if he returned to Rupp Arena

Despite some obvious angst still being aimed at Rick Pitino from Big Blue Nation, Kentucky coach John Calipari wants the former Wildcats coach to come back to Rupp Arena to be recognized by fans for his contributions to the program.

Calipari made mention of that potential scenario playing out in the future after Kentucky's 1993 Final Four team was honored during Saturday's victory vs. Utah. Members of that team were on hand for the celebration but Pitino, who coached the team, was not in attendance.

"He was with family and he had things going on," Calipari said of Pitino's absence. "I just said, 'Look, you need to get up here. This will be respectful here.' What that program did to change this back, we should recognize it. You may be mad he went to coach at Louisville. So, what? When he was here and when we needed this program on a different track he put it there."

Pitino was not short on success at Kentucky, where he coached from 1989-1997. He won the national championship with the Wildcats in 1996, took them to three Final Fours, and redirected the program marred in scandal -- and later slapped with probation -- dating back to violations from the Eddie Sutton era. 

Pitino, who was absent in person for this weekend's game, was present in spirit via the Twitterverse.

Pitino left Kentucky to coach the Boston Celtics in 1997, an understandable move for a successful college coach, but a failed stint in the NBA ultimately led him back to college -- and to Louisville -- Kentucky's most hated rival. He last coached the Cardinals in 2017, however, and Calipari believes he'd be greeted at UK with open arms.

"I think our fans would be great," Calipari said. "I think they're by all that. He may not think that, but I'm convinced if he came back the fans would be great to him."

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